Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Mark Twain’s Get-Rich-Quick Schemes"

From the Paris Review:
Like most of us, Mark Twain hated writing checks to other people. But there were times when he happily paid out large sums. Issuing a check for $200,000 drawn on the United States Bank of New York on February 27, 1886, for example, made him almost giddy. The check was made out to Julia Dent Grant, the widow of Ulysses S. Grant, the former president of the United States and commanding general of the Union Army, who had died of cancer the summer before, just after completing his remembrances of the Civil War. That payment represented the first profits from sales of volume one of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, published only a few months earlier by Charles L. Webster and Company, a start-up publishing house Twain had established two years before. He had installed a nephew, Charles “Charley” Webster, as its business manager. Webster got his name on the letterhead and a salary, but that’s about all he got out of the position, besides aggravation. Twain made all the business and financial decisions, except when he didn’t feel like it.

Twain would have been pleased to have published Grant’s memoir even if it had not broken all American publishing records for sheer profitability. Just landing the contract had required Twain to persuade General Grant to break a handshake deal with another publisher. The other publisher had offered Grant a 10 percent royalty. Twain countered by offering a royalty share unheard of then, or since: 75 percent. The other publisher offered no advance against royalties. Twain said he would pay $25,000 upfront.

This was a bold gamble—some might say a reckless investment—but it paid off. At that time, the $200,000 royalty check to Grant’s widow was the largest ever paid by an American publisher. In the months to come, Webster and Company wrote additional royalty checks to Grant’s family, bringing their earnings to $450,000, which again broke publishing records. Twain himself pocketed $200,000 for Grant’s memoirs. In our own time, that’s about $11,000,000 for Grant’s widow and $4,800,000 for Twain.

This sounds like a lot of money—and it was. Back then, a coal miner made $1.50 a day and paid $6 a month to rent a house for his wife and five children. The family’s annual food bill was $80 a month, a pound of butter cost 35 cents and a dozen eggs, 40 cents. For the urban sophisticate, a man’s suit cost $4.85, a piano could be bought for $125, and a three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan rented for $80 a month.

By the age of fifty, Mark Twain had achieved something he had dreamed of and worked for his entire life: he was rich. Raised in genteel poverty in small towns in Missouri (when Missouri was still the West), Twain as a grown man, had rubbed elbows with the greatest business tycoons of the time. As the author of The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he had seen the world, or much of it. Russian princes and English lords fawned over him. Hundreds of thousands of people bought his books and lined up to hear him speak. With his earnings—and his wife’s inheritance—he had built a startlingly opulent, twenty-five-room mansion in high-toned Hartford, Connecticut. Justin Kaplan, the author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, called the house “part steamboat, part medieval stronghold, and part cuckoo clock.”

And now, as head of his own publishing firm, making money for other authors, he felt like a great philanthropist. He could see himself as one of the true benefactors of the age. And it was an age he had named when he chose the title of one of his own best sellers: The Gilded Age....MUCH MORE
HT: Digg

Like Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum became a bankrupt and like Mark Twain he resolved to repay his creditors and come back bigger than before.
So he did.
If interested see: "How P.T. Barnum Gave The Public What It Wanted (and made a fortune in the process)":
...Phineas had made quite a bit of money before he started the circus (at age 61) but had guaranteed the debts of a failed company, which combined with his own debts, made him a bankrupt.
Among the things he did to recover was go on a lecture tour talking about boozing and money.

After he had repaid his debts ($450K ~$12 million in 2017) he wrote a book, the table of contents of which showed just how much the bankruptcy had scarred him.
Here's the copy maintained by John Walker, founder of Autodesk, at his Fourmilab, Switzerland website:....